Dee Hibbert-Jones & Nomi Talisman

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From the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty


The use of the death penalty in the United States has been steadily declining in recent years.  The death penalty is now largely isolated to only a small handful of states which actively use it.  Despite this diminished use, the flaws and failures of the death penalty are more apparent than ever.


Numerous studies conducted in various states have concluded again and again that the death penalty is more expensive than alternative sentences.


For example, a 2015 study showed that in Washington death penalty cases cost an average of $1 million more to prosecute than comparable cases where the death penalty is not sought. A 2012 study showed that death penalty has cost California more than $4 billion since 1978, and suggested that commuting all the state's death sentences to life imprisonment would immediately result in $170 million in savings per year. In Kansas, death penalty cases studied between 2004-2011 cost around four times more than cases where the death penalty was not sought.  States could save millions of dollars a year by eliminating the death penalty.1


And although the majority of the United States' death penalty cases are in 2% of the country's counties, the costs of those cases are shifted on to the majority of our taxpayers. Beyond the dollars and cents, however, there are other costs to choosing the death penalty — costs to society — which must be considered when analyzing the true price of capital punishment.


The Death Penalty Diverts Resources from Proven Solutions to Crime and Violence


State programs that successfully address the underlying, contributing factors to crime and violence already exist, but they do not receive sufficient resources.  By redirecting death penalty dollars in a careful and targeted way, we can reduce crime, improve our communities and save money. 


•    Early Childhood Education

•    Evidence-based research suggests that children who receive early education are less likely to become criminals, which not only benefits society, but also saves the state money. 

•    Increasing High School Graduation Rates

•    Programs that target at-risk youth and expand the numbers of high school graduates help to reduce crime. 

•    Gang Prevention

•    Education-related and community-based programs help prevent at-risk youth from joining gangs.2

•    Mental Health Services

•    Studies of programs that provide mental health services for juveniles in Texas, Utah, and Colorado have all proven that “individuals who receive mental health treatment have a much lower probability of being arrested” and have a lower rate of recidivism.3

•    Drug and Alcohol Treatment Services

•    By increasing the number of people sent to substance abuse treatment programs, states have successfully reduced violent crime, incarceration, and recidivism.4

•       All Victims Should Receive the Support and Services They Need

•       We must prioritize providing for the needs of violent crime victims. All such victims—regardless of race, class, gender, prior criminal history or their views on capital punishment—should receive the support and services that they need to rebuild their lives when the worst possible thing imaginable happens.

•       The limited resources designated for violent crime victims are inadequate and often do not get to victims who are in need of support. African American men between the ages of 17 and 29 are all too often among those who do not have access to these services and support for victims of crime.1

•       Just as troubling, surviving family members who oppose the death penalty often find that their opposition to capital punishment leads to being treated with less dignity and respect.  They often have to fight for the basic victims’ rights that they legally have. 


The Death Penalty Prohibits States from Providing Adequate Support to Victims and Their Families Funding for the death penalty could be redirected to support expanded services for victims and their families, including grief counseling, funeral costs, school tuition scholarships or grants for children of murdered parents, paid leave from work to attend court proceedings, crime scene cleanup5, emergency funds6, and medical treatment.7


The Death Penalty Harms Others


Ron McAndrew, a former warden on Florida’s death row, has said, “Many colleagues turned to drugs and alcohol from the pain of knowing a man died at their hands.”  Some have even committed suicide.8 Read more about the harm to prison workers.


Of course the death penalty also harms the loved ones of those people sentenced to death. For more on the experience of losing a family member to the death penalty, watch Herb Donaldson's Tedx Talk, "How to Survive an Execution." As long as the death penalty is on the books, it will continue to siphon scarce public resources from programs that can strengthen our communities and prevent crime in the first place. 


The death penalty takes a heavy toll on those directly involved in executions— prison wardens, chaplains, executioners, and corrections officers.


Many of those involved in executions have reported suffering PTSD-like symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares and other forms of distress. These symptoms are reported by multiple witnesses such as journalists, executioners, and wardens alike.



Race is a Significant Factor in the Death Penalty


As a society we cannot change the past, but we can act to transform our future. Studies spanning more than 30 years, covering virtually every state that uses capital punishment, have found that race is a significant factor in death penalty cases. 


As Justice Harry Blackmun explained in his 1994 dissent from the court’s refusal to hear the death penalty case Callins v. Collins,1 it should not surprise us that “the biases and prejudices that infect society generally influence the determination of who is sentenced to death, even within the narrower pool of death eligible defendants selected according to objective standards.”  The burdens and failures of the United States justice system fall most heavily and unfairly on communities of color. There must be a fundamental change in the system.  The lynchpin for that change is ending capital punishment.


Exonerations of Innocent Men and Women


Since 1976, we have executed over 1,397 individuals in this country.2 As of January 2015, 150 individuals have been exonerated--that is, found to be innocent and set free. 3  In other words, for every 10 people who have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, one person has been set free.




2 Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice Harvard Law School, “Eleven Million Points of Light: How Abolition of the Death Penalty in North Carolina Could Improve Public Safety, Increase Opportunities, and Build Prosperity.” A Policy Brief. April 30, 2010.

3 Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice Harvard Law School, “Eleven Million Points of Light: How Abolition of the Death Penalty in North Carolina Could Improve Public Safety, Increase Opportunities, and Build Prosperity.” A Policy Brief. April 30, 2010